Writer: Tom King
Artist: Chris Burnham
Color Artist: Adriano Lucas
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Review by Derek McNeil
When Pariah and his forces of the Great Darkness laid waste to the most powerful superheroes of all time, all hope was lost. With the Man of Steel suffering the same fate as his comrades, join us for a look at a world of dreams he would never have thought possible while alive, in Worlds Without A Justice League: Superman.
Where there’s life there’s hope, and with that hope comes a deeper unraveling of the tapestry of DCU’s biggest event of 2022!
It appears that the reports of Superman’s death in Justice League #75 have been greatly exaggerated, as he seems to be alive and in good health in this Worlds Without a Justice League: Superman one-shot. However, there are a lot of strange things going on in the world around him. The same is true for Aquaman, who stars in a backup story.
I doubt anyone truly believed that the League really died in the story that kicked off Dark Crisis. It’s common knowledge at this point that Pariah has captured the members of the League in worlds that fulfill their deepest desires. Presumably, it’s that wish-fulfillment element that keeps them from attempting to escape the worlds that Pariah has built for them.
The main story featuring Superman is written by Tom King, who has written a rather similar story in his Mister Miracle series. In that story, Scott Free appears to also be living in a simulated reality that keeps him similarly trapped. And Superman has also gone through a similar story in Alan Moore’s classic story “For the Man Who Has Everything”.
I find that the granted wish that keeps Superman trapped is quite believable as something that would tempt someone as strong-willed as the Man of Steel. In 2019, DC made the major misstep of allowing Brian Michael Bendis to instantly age up Clark’s son Jon from 10 years old to 17, which essentially robbed Superman and Lois of seeing their son grow from a child into the man he currently is.
In this reality, Clark gets those years that Bendis stole from him and, as Jon sets off to lead his own life, Superman tells his wife:
I wouldn’t trade any of it. Not a single second. For… I was there, Lois. I was here. I saw him. I got to see him grow into the man he had to be. I didn’t miss it this time. No, no, no, not for anything. I wouldn’t trade this… for anything.
This shows how badly and deeply Superman wants this life in which he got to see his son grow up. but it’s also somewhat troubling. There’s a clear implication that Superman knows this life isn’t real, yet he emphatically states his refusal to give this false world up.
However, we know that at his core, Superman knows he is needed outside this dream world, and he knows that these versions of Jon and Lois aren’t his real family, no matter how much he wants them to be, he knows he will eventually return to his “real” family.
There are some other interesting differences in the world Pariah created for Clark, and the costumes Chris Burnham has beautifully depicted offer some interesting insights into these differences. Clark’s is clearly patterned after the Golden-Age Superman costume, so combining this with the white hair on Clark’s temples makes him look like the original, Pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths Earth-Two Superman in his Silver and Bronze Age appearances.
Could showing him in a costume from a simpler time be hinting at Superman’s desire for a simpler life? The story tells us that past events have kept Clark within the bounds of Earth’s solar system, and there’s no indication of other heroes on Earth. On the whole, Superman’s dream world leaves him with less to do, and consequently more time to spend with his family.
Jon’s uniform is quite intriguing, as it’s essentially a Robin costume with an S-shield in place of Robin’s R-symbol. Could it be that Clark on some level is jealous of Bruce’s father-son relationship with the various Robins? I think that might be so, especially when it comes to Bruce’s relationship with Dick Grayson. Bruce got to see Dick mature and grow into one of the DCU’s foremost heroes, while Clark missed that with Jon.
There is a darker side to this idyllic world; Darkseid and his forces are running rampant on the universe outside the solar system, which Clark has retreated to. Superman knows the wider universe needs him, but he’s afraid to defy Darkseid. Jon sets off to do exactly that and dons his father’s costume to set out to fight the ruler of Apokolips.
That’s another thing that Clark deeply longs for. He’s not just content to see his son grown into a man, but he wants to see Jon surpass him. He doesn’t want to be the conquering hero, he just wants to be the proud father of that hero.
The Aquaman story is similar, but the wish-fulfilment element seems rather less nuanced than in the main story. Basically, Aquaman’s ideal life involves him surrounded by friends and family and we see them all gathered at a vow-renewal ceremony for Arthur’s parents.
This appears to be set a good few years in the future, as his daughter is now grown up and calling herself Aquawoman. Arthur appears to be on friendly terms with Black Manta, which I suspect this reveals Aquaman’s desire that his recent truce with Manta will eventually develop into a true alliance and friendship between the two.
I also have to say that I quite liked how the title “Aquaman Has Everything” gives a nod to the aforementioned Alan Moore classic Superman story “For the Man Who Has Everything”. That was a nice touch.
Perhaps the less nuanced wish-fulfillment fantasy explains why Arthur is aware that this world isn’t real. He states this clearly, as well as his desire to escape this false reality. He addresses Pariah directly:
Maybe one day it’ll all be real… like it was meant to be. But it’s not real. Not yet. I don’t have everything yet. I don’t yet have my hands around your throat. You think you’ve beaten us–but better than you have tried, and in the end, you all learn…Not even death will hold us. I’ve been dead before, and I’ve come back. Soon…we’ll see if you can say the same.
This bit is truly chilling as Brandon Thomas clearly understands what a menacing badass Aquaman can be. I would love to see Thomas get a chance to tackle an Aquaman project in the future, or perhaps the main Aquaman title. He really seems to get the character.
I have absolutely no complaints about Dark Crisis: Worlds Without A Justice League: Superman. Dark Crisis and the overarching new Great Darkness Saga has been handled superbly (except for a certain miniseries starring the League and the Legion of Super-Heroes), and this one-shot story is no exception.
If this issue is any indication, the upcoming Worlds Without a Justice League one-shots are going to be something really special. I can’t wait to see what realities Pariah has created for the other members of the League. This Superman story is like Tom King’s best stories usually are – heartbreaking but also somehow uplifting at the same time.
Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment